On a beautifully clear, crisp morning I went on a farm visit with a bird expert from the RSPB to look for wintering geese. I am contracted by the farmer to produce a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) for his land so that he can gain entry into an Agri-environment scheme. As a farmer he has problems with large flocks of migrating geese eating the grass of his hay fields in the Spring when he needs the grass for his heavily pregnant ewes. The geese are also a problem in August and September when he needs the grass for fattening his ewes and tups (rams) to see them through the winter and into the start of the next breeding season, which starts in November.
On the plus side the geese fertilise his fields. This is not good news for Grindon Lough, into which these fields drain. The lough is a Northumberland Wildlife Trust nature reserve and of similar quality and interest to the 3 other natural loughs (Crag, Broomlee and Greenlee) that make up the Roman Wall Loughs Special Area of Conservation (a European designation). The natural goose fertiliser and the pressure of geese puddling up the areas draining into the lough have a negative effect on its water quality in terms of nutrient enrichment and sediment loading.
We were not expecting to see too many geese as the majority of them should have flown further south by now to winter; however there were 80 Canada Geese sunning themselves on the south-facing slopes. As we approached they took flight and disappeared south over the horizon. Canada geese are a naturalised non-native goose that were introduced to Britain from North America in the 17th Century. Charles II was the first to import them for St James’ Palace in London and other owners of stately homes followed suit. There are now large flocks of feral geese across England and Southern Scotland causing a nuisance in many public parks and gardens. They can be shot under licence but the problem on this farm is that there can be rare white fronted geese wintering on the lough and surrounding fields along with greylag geese from Iceland.
I also had a quick trip up to the Roman Wall at Housesteads as it was such a lovely morning but there was a biting northerly wind so I did not linger.